Most tool and equipment surveys that I have seen always ask the question of the technician or shop owner, “How important is price when you consider a purchase?” Answers usually include other comparison points, like quality, availability, warranty, convenience, selection, service, made in USA and payment options. And the price factor usually comes after quality, availability and service. It is almost always the number three or four reason chosen by a professional. Number one and two generally flip between quality and availability, but in more recent years, the importance of availability is trending downward, and service is trending upward. Made in USA seems to have been left by the roadside somewhere. And, oddly enough, “relationship, integrity, connection with my supplier” is never one of the options.
So for some reason I was thinking about price today and wondering how important price really is when you personally consider a purchase. I know you have mobile distributors who stop by your shop on a regular basis to tell you about and sell you the latest and greatest tools. And their leadership believes that service and quality is what drives your purchases first, then availability and warranty second. I know you have first- and second-call jobbers for parts, and their leadership believes that quality and availability drives your purchases from them. And some of you may rely on a few dealerships, and their leadership believes that OEM brand and quality drives your purchase. Most of the time, the reason you buy from one source or another is the connection you have made with your supplier. At some point, he or she has proven they can help you do your job better, faster, easier, but not always by using a cheaper tool than you could buy from someone else.
So then I got to thinking about our newest tool and equipment distributor, the impersonal Internet. And, yes, I know, the Internet is not always impersonal. Sometimes you’re using websites that are extensions of tool suppliers you’ve used for years. But tell the truth, after you get a price from your main guy, don’t you sometimes find yourself surfing the web, looking for the best “deal”?
The thought of how immediately we get information from the Internet led me back to price, and why people buy. I believe that more and more, too many of us are relying on the net (no pun intended) impact to our wallet when we buy new tools and equipment. To me, this is a very short-term perspective because there are so many other factors to consider when purchasing tools and equipment for professional use. In addition to the age-old factors of price, quality, service and availability, you should keep in mind the other factors that many manufacturers provide today, but that many Internet providers are omitting. These are things like product training, product upgrades, warranty options, ease of return, credit availability, cataloging and a long list of other services that we tend to take for granted until they are no longer available. When you buy off the Internet, many times, once you’ve entered your credit card number and received the product, your “relationship” is over. You buy it, you break it, you outta luck.
You see, I used to sell tools and equipment on quality first, the right-tool-for-the-right-job second and price rarely. So the whole idea of looking for something cheap to get the job done goes against my professional “grain.”
Yet the power of the Internet, combined with our general desire for inexpensive products, has provided us with an increasing number of choices when it comes to buying tools and equipment. As we all look to find something less expensive, it seems more and more that instead we are finding something “cheap.” And by cheap I mean inexpensive and frequently of inferior quality. It may look good, but who can say how well it will work or how long it will last? In addition to questionable quality, there may be a question of safety. Many of these tools are manufactured overseas and are imported by both U.S. and international companies. Some are good and some are not. Some will last a “lifetime” and some will last for one job, then be tossed aside because it breaks or is stripped or is unusable to some degree. And then I ask, what price did you pay for something that it is worth so little to you, that you would only use it once and then throw it away? If you stake your livelihood on the tools you use, don’t you want to buy the best and keep them for a lifetime of use? It’s an investment in your future.
So back to the power of price and ultimately the power of the Internet. I’m not saying that you can’t find bargains or great products on the Internet. We all know you can find both. But, as our distribution models change, I would encourage you to know your suppliers — whoever they are, understand what it is you’re paying for, and keep quality at the top of your “must-have” list when buying tools and equipment. After all, at the end of the day, what are you selling?